John Fordham 

Blue Touch Paper – review

Colin Towns's new outfit felt their way in during the first half, but fused to an incandescent glow for the second, reckons John Fordham

Colin Towns, the one-time rock pianist and TV and film composer, paints big musical canvases, full of colliding characters who sound like relatives of Stravinsky, Zappa, the Beatles, Miles Davis or Kurt Weill. He usually unleashes a big band on it, but this spring pursues a comparable soundscape with just a stack of digital kit and six musicians.

Playing only its second live gig, Towns's new Blue Touch Paper sextet almost inevitably spent time finding its feet while its melody players (Polar Bear saxophonist Mark Lockheart, Troyka guitarist Chris Montague and Towns himself on keys) shuffled their way around a thudding rhythm-section maelstrom from two percussionists and bass guitar. But in the second, the band fused to an incandescent glow, and the transition bodes well for the full UK tour in May.

Slamming-door sounds and ghostly wind-noise electronics accompanied the musicians' arrival on stage and ushered in a fast, downward-spiralling tenor-sax and guitar theme over a barrage from drummers Benny Greb and Stephan Maass, and bass guitarist Edward Maclean. Typical Towns contrasts followed – a gentle sax line and ringing bottleneck guitar over a catchy keyboard hook; bowed-bass and vocal samples against the gurgling of Lockheart's bass clarinet.

The second half was more patient, spacious, and rich. Lockheart brought a somewhat Andy Sheppard-like lyrical loucheness to the opener, and his tenor sax wrapped itself around Towns' resigned, Mark Knopfleresque vocal on Principal Dancer. Curling bass-clarinet figures mingling with the rhythm section's increasing subtlety brought a heightened unity, and an encore on the skidding, tramping Crazy Man on Platform 13 triggered an exultant finale.


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